Profiles in Africana Religion – Part 29: African Women’s Club Movement, A Global Effort of Black Women
The Black Women’s Club Movement of the United States was a powerful effort on the part of the first generation of free Black women in America who organized themselves into self-help organizations meant to address the ills and pitfalls of freedom in America. This movement brought together Black women from all walks of life: the formerly enslaved, first generation free-born, entrepreneurs, teachers and spiritual leaders. Furthermore, this movement paved the way for a number of groups and organizations which were extremely impactful across the oceans of space and time; meaning, the impact of the Black Women’s Club Movement had far reaching implications for black women in the Caribbean, the continent of Africa and throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. This essay will review and discuss the impact of the Black Women’s Club Movement across space and time in order to demonstrate the far-reaching implications of Black women’s involvement in the progression of African people throughout the world.
The organization of Black women self-help groups dates back to the 18th century with the development of the Female Benevolent Society of St. Thomas. This group was founded in 1793 in Philadelphia, a city well known for sustaining an African population that understood the necessity as well as rigors of freedom. It was relatively common for African Americans to organize themselves in the North into self-help groups in order to battle the racism and discrimination as well as to bring attention to the traumas of enslavement. In addition, most self-help organizations were centered in the North because any type of collective movement in the South was seen as a threat to the slavocracy and mercilessly struck down. African Americans in the North had this to their advantage, but that is all they had.
During the antebellum period of the 19th century, in 1818, an African American religious self-help group was organized in Massachusetts called the Colored Female Religious and Moral Society. It was in many ways the first of its kind, but by no means the last. Throughout the 19th century, many organizations popped up in throughout the North with similar eyes set on freeing black people from ignorance, immorality as well as injustice and servitude. However, the major push for these organizations and movements came between 1880 and 1920. During this time, many prominent African American women were deeply involved in founding, organizing and developing movements that would shape the coming century of civil discourse. Moreover, the Black Women’s Club Movement was represented in a number of fashions. Meaning, there were civic organizations, political and economic movements, religious and cultural groups, and collegiate as well as esoteric guilds. The diversity of these organizations was made clear in their outlook and approach. That is to say, religious organizations centered on piety and devotion to God, while civic movements were centered on securing human rights for African Americans. Whatever the specific outlook of a particular group’s approach, there was one goal: uplifting the race.
Now despite this commonality, there has always been the accusation the powerful people within these organizations see themselves as better than those on the outside. That is, prosperity begets privilege, even for those on the bottom rung of society. Moreover, ideas such as W.E.B. DuBois’ philosophy of the “talented tenth”, seemed to promote a “trickle-down” posture in the Black community. The idea behind this philosophy is simple and not completely without merit, but flawed nonetheless. To explain, DuBois’ idea (shared by many in the Black Women’s Club Movement) argues that the top ten percent of the African American population, that is the richest, most educated and most successful individuals and/or families, should pave the way for the rest of the race by opening doors and creating opportunities. The problem with this “trickle-down” approach is that it has the potential to become nepotistic and rigid, where the privileged ten percent gain and maintain a sense of power over the rest and do very little to help those on the bottom to reach a more privileged position.
Along with the problem of elitism, there has always been the issue of anti-radicalism that centers around the talented-tenth. That is to say, many of the elites work with the idea that the people should maneuver within the established means of progress and not “rock the boat”, so to say. Because of this, some thinkers of the early 20th century, such as Marcus Garvey, were ostracized and labeled problematic deviants, rather than have their ideas, philosophies and strategies taken seriously. By extension, this also, means that many radical women were silenced as well. This is not to say, that good wasn’t done or that women did not have a voice, because through the Club Movement they made their own voice. To support, Nina Mjagkji author of Organizing Black America argues: “In addition to their work in the lodges, African American women also found an outlet for community activism in the women’s club movement, especially during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Between 1880 and 1920, Indianapolis’s black club women created more than five hundred clubs that addressed a wide range of social welfare issues and laid the foundation for political activism.” This passage uses Indianapolis as an example, however this is just one urban example. The work of the Black Women’s Club Movement was relatively wide-spread and extremely impactful across both space and time.
The critical role of Black women in America and throughout the world did not by any means begin with the Club Movement, however, this point in history accentuated the valor, courage and intelligence that Black Women have brought to the freedom struggle. Likewise, the role of religion has been critically important, but without the pillars (Black Women) of those communities all institutions, religious or otherwise are nothing. What the Black Women’s Club Movement did, was set the tone for activism for the 20th century and beyond. Today the daughters, grand-daughters and great grand-daughters of the Black Women’s Club Era move and shake with a certain ferocity that is to be marveled at. For instance, in St. Louis and Baltimore Black women lead the way as communities began to rise up against police brutality. As well Black Women have been at the forefront of both the #BlackLivesMatter and #HandsUpDontShoot hashtags which shed light on the brutality being suffered by African Americans in varying communities throughout the country. The Black Women’s Club Movement paved the way for the dynamic movements of our present day, as well the philosophies and strategies of that era continue to guide us.
 Robert L. Harris. "Early Black Benevolent Societies, 1780-1830." The Massachusetts Review 20, no. 3 (1979): 605. www.jstor.org/stable/25088988. See. AME Church, Richard Allen and Absolom Jones.
 Anne Firor Scott. "Most Invisible of All: Black Women's Voluntary Associations". The Journal of Southern History. 56 (1): 6.
 Nina Mjagki. Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations. (Routledge, 2003), 235. “Building coalitions across class and gender lines, black club women founded organizations such as the Norwood Citizens League (1906), which sought “to better conditions morally in the suburbs,” and the Woman’s Civic Club (1907), which emerged from the Idle Hands Needle Club, a late-nineteenth-century black women’s philanthropic association whose purpose was to provide winter fuel, food, and clothes for the city’s poor neighborhoods.”
 Leon Litwack and August Meier. Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century. (University of Illinois Press: Urbana and Chicago, 1991). Throughout this text, the Black Women’s Club Movement is referenced many times throughout the surveyed discourse on Harriet Tubman and Mary Church Terrell. Dorothy Sterling. We are Your Sisters: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century. (Revised ed.). (W. W. Norton & Company, 1997).
 Nina Mjagki. Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations. (Routledge, 2003), 235. Examples: the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (some chapters started out as women’s group), the Order of Eastern Star, as well as a number of collegiate sororities such as Alpha Kappa Alpha and Delta Sigma Theta.
 Some may say, this is especially the case for those on the bottom, i.e., crabs in a barrel.
 William Edward Burghardt DuBois. The Talented Tenth. New York, NY: James Pott and Company, 1903.
 Joy James. Transcending the Talented Tenth: Black leaders and American intellectuals. (Routledge, 2014).
 Healy-Clancy, Meghan. "The Daughters of Africa and Transatlantic Racial Kinship: Cecilia Lilian Tshabalala and the Women's Club Movement, 1912-1943." Amerikastudien/American Studies (2014): 481-499.
 Nina Mjagkji. Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations. (Routledge, 2003), 235.
The latter half of the 19th century was a time of great change in the United States. The country was in great flux as different populations of people worked to carve out space for themselves in a national as well as global context. Out of this great flux, Black women stormed through the barriers of racism and sexism with power, grace and distinction. One of most important instruments in this effort to forge ahead, were self-help clubs and organizations. Discussed briefly the last couple of installments, the Black Women’s Club Movement was one of the most progressive and impactful movements in US history. Through the many clubs that were formed during this era, Black women attacked issues of racism, sexism, poverty, education, economics and socio-political empowerment simultaneously. One of the most important figures in this movement is Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, a woman who had her finger on the pulse of postbellum American society.
Ruffin was born in Boston, Massachusetts to John St. Pierre and Elizabeth Mathilda Menhenick in 1834. In Boston as a youth, Ruffin lived and attended school in Salem and Charlestown which at the time were segregated parts of Boston. It is true that the North was not as immersed in the slavocracy as the South was, but that did not mean that white people of those areas were immune to racial bigotry and hatred. Given this, Ruffin’s parents were not willing to allow their children to suffer the system of segregation, so they sent their daughter to New York City to complete her education. Segregation in Northern schools depended largely on where a person was, New York for instance was more liberal than Boston, though they are both Northern cities. However, in Boston around 1855, there was a movement led by African Americans in the city to have public schools desegregated. This movement did have a measure of success, in that by the end of the year public schools in Boston were desegregated for Black children. As a result, Ruffin moved back to Boston to attend and complete her education at the Bowdain School.
By modern standards, Ruffin married at a young age - 16 - however, her and her husband, George Lewis Ruffin were very active in Boston City politics. Where Josephine and her husband were most active and impactful was in the struggle against the institution of slavery. In particular, the Ruffins were strong advocates of Black Union soldiers, particularly for the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Regiments. As well, after the war, they helped displaced African Americans coming out of the South’s slavocracy to get settled in their new lives working with the Kansas Freedman’s Relief Association. In addition, collectively the Ruffins were very impactful during and after the Civil War in being tireless and uncompromising advocates for African American Union soldiers and new Freedmen. Where Josephine was most impactful was through her involvement in the Women’s Suffrage and Black Women’s Club Movement. To elaborate, in 1869, Ruffin worked with Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Stone to development the American Women’s Suffrage Association. As a talented writer Ruffin also joined the New England Women’s Press Association where she was able write about issues that impacted both African Americans and women. In 1894 she organized a Black Women’s advocacy group called the Women’s Era Club with her daughter Florida Riley. And the following year she organization the National Federation of Afro-American Women and the first Conference of the Colored Women of America in her home city of Boston.
Though religion had its place, the Black Women’s Club Movement was not an exclusively religious movement, however it grew out of self-help groups that were many times church or faith based. In particular, Protestant Christianity, was a critical element of most community groups and organizations of the late 19th century. But the movement in general was not meant to simply be religious based, the focus instead was on the collective efforts from people of diverse back grounds. Meaning, regardless of the religious background, color or gender of those involved, the Black Women’s Club Movement understood its struggle as important for development of humanity in a very general and collective sense. Ruffing elaborates: “Our women’s movement is woman’s movement in that it is led and directed by women for the good of women and men, for the benefit of all humanity, which is more than any one branch or section of it. We want, we ask the active interest of our men, and, too, we are not drawing the color line; we are women, American women, as intensely interested in all that pertains to us as such as all other American women: we are not alienating or withdrawing, we are only coming to the front, willing to join any others in the same work and cordially inviting and welcoming any others to join us.” The struggle for freedom was/is a struggle for all Americans, and the unique perspective of Black women was/is critically important as they have been at the bottom of American society.
To this point Ruffin has often been overlooked in this conversation because she worked very closely with white women, a group that has historically been at the center of the oppression of African American people. To be clear, this critique is not unfounded, white women often paraded Black women as representatives of their movements, but ignored the problems that were unique to the Black community. Moreover, white women refused to acknowledge and address the problem of white men terrorizing Black communities to protect white womanhood. White supremacy’s greatest catalyst has always been and remains the defense white women from the scourge of Black men. However, Ruffin, perhaps to her detriment as a community leader, worked to bring communities together, without addressing the historical inequities. She states: “We need to feel the cheer and inspiration of meeting each other, we need to gain the courage and fresh life that comes from the mingling of congenial souls, of those working for the same ends.” It must be said, that her ideals in this regard were noble. But the critique of her approach also has merit. White women, have historically had the horrendous habit of weaponizing their whiteness, and if our communities are to find any semblance of peace and cohesion, this will have to be addressed. Nevertheless, Ruffin is not wrong in attempting to find common ground for which opposing communities could come to the same table to address the country’s social ills. In this, our struggle continues.
 Miletsky, Zebulon Vance. “Before Busing: Boston’s Long Movement for Civil Rights and the Legacy of Jim Crow in the “Cradle of Liberty”.” Journal of Urban History 43, no. 2 (2017): 207.
 Darryl Lyman. (2005). "Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin". Great African-American Women (third ed.). Middle Village, NY: Jonathan David Company. pp. 196–197. Holden, Teresa Blue. “Earnest women can do anything”: The public career of Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, 1842–1904. Saint Louis University, 2005.
 Verner Mitchell and Cynthia Davis. Literary Sisters: Dorothy West and Her Circle, A Biography of the Harlem Renaissance. Rutgers University Press. (2011), 88-90.
 State House Women's Leadership Project (2008). "Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin". Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities.
 Black Past. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/kansas-freedmans-relief-association-1879-1881/. Accessed October 2019. “In response to the mass exodus from the south in 1879 and 1880, Kansas Governor and Quaker John St. John established the Kansas Freedman’s Relief Association (KFRA). The Association was created in 1879 to “aid destitute freedmen, refugees and immigrants” who were migrating to Kansas.” Accessed October 2019.
 Black Past. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/ruffin-josephine-st-pierre-1842-1924/. Accessed October 2019. “During the civil war, the Ruffins were involved in various charity works, civil rights causes, and Mrs. Ruffin, especially, was involved in the women’s suffrage movement where she worked with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.”
 Anthony W. Neal. “Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin: A Pioneer in the Black Women’s Club Movement. The Bay State Banner. (2016).
 Black Past. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/1895-josephine-st-pierre-ruffin-address-first-national-conference-colored-women/. Accessed October 2019.
 Gerda Lerner. "Early community work of Black club women." The Journal of Negro History 59, no. 2 (1974): 158-167.
 AZ Quotes. https://www.azquotes.com/author/24470-Josephine_St_Pierre_Ruffin. Accessed October 2019.
As the 19th century unfolded a different population of African Americans were born into the world. This population would be born in the South but not experience the South in its full oppressive glory. That is to say, there was a new emerging population of millions of African Americans who were to be born in the South but would be born free. Mary Church Terrell is one such individual, born free in the South, during the Civil War. Though the Emancipation Proclamation had not yet been signed upon her birth (1863), by the time she was mastering the ability to walk and talk the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments had been signed and put into law. Terrell would be born free to free parents and raised free, knowing little of the horrors her parents endured. She instead would have navigate through different and evolving world and have to deal with an entirely new set of difficulties and dangers in white America.
Terrell was born in Memphis, Tennessee; her mother, Louisa Ayers Church, was born free but her father, Robert Reed Church, was born into bondage but was later freed well before the birth of his daughter. The Church family were relatively well off, Louisa was popular dress maker and property owner in Memphis, and Robert was self-educated and did well with real estate in the city making him one of the most successful Black business men in the country. However, being Black and successful does not grant an immunity to the pitfalls of white supremacy. Throughout Terrell’s early life she saw and experienced the costs of being Black in America despite her family having a generous measure of financial success. Nonetheless, no matter how well-off they were, they were still Black in the very hostile American South during the postbellum period, a period in which the country saw the growth of white terrorism with the founding of the Ku Klux Klan.
Terrell’s education went through Oberlin College where she studied the Classics. At Oberlin, she excelled as a writer and as a leader. During this time period women were only expected to complete two-years of college, however Terrell completed what was referred to as the “gentlemen’s path” which was simply a full four years of college. In college, she was very active among the student body. She was not shy in addressing issues relevant to race and gender. For example, “in one college paper she urges women to devote some time to their own self-culture and study rather than permit ‘household cares’ to absorb their minds. This line of thinking, popular among late-nineteenth-century women reformers, was the basis for the formation of hundreds of women’s self-culture and reading clubs.” She also, continued her graduate work at Oberlin, completing a degree in Education. Education was extremely important for her, believing it the only way for African Americans in general and African American women in particular to truly progress in American society. Eventually, because of this dynamic and her tireless work, Terrell was elected to the District of Columbia Board of Education where she was able to service African Americans of the capital district.
As Terrell grew as an activist she spoke often at women’s conferences and conventions. As such, she worked closely with white women in the suffrage movement and the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Susan B. Anthony was one personality in particular that Terrell found a measure of cohesion. The NAWSA was primarily focused on the problems of White women, however driven Black women such as Terrell and Sojourner Truth made it their business to bring the issues of Black women particularly and African Americans in general to the table. But, the organization was not interested in directly addressing the issues of Black people or Black women evidenced by the fact that Black women were not allowed to organized their own wing of the NAWSA, though it was more than happy use the voices as Black women to further their own cause. Be that as it may, Terrell and her cultural contemporaries were not to be denied. They used their platform to speak on the need for unity amongst African Americans and the importance of elevating the voices of women in the struggle for freedom.
Being denied philosophical space in the NAMSA lead to the formation of the Color Women’s League founded by Terrell, Helen Appo Cook, Ida B. Bailey, Anna Julie Cooper, Charlotte Forten Grimke, Mary Jane Peterson and Evelyn Shaw. The organization of Black Women in the Color Women’s League was one of the more important steps in the Black women Club Movement, a movement of the late 19th century and early 20th century that sought to address the social ills of African Americans through the development of self-help programs and organizations. Further, the Black Women’s Club Movement was primarily focused on the upliftment of the race, not just through self-help but as well by attacking the racial plagues of the era such as segregation and lynching. However, one of the major differences between the Black women’s club movement and white women’s suffrage movement was an emphasis on male involvement and cooperation. In the DC area in particular, “their efforts to inform the public about the moral and social progress of the black race, the members of this pioneering women’s group initiated a number of practical measures to benefit the Washington black community, ranging from an evening school for adults to mothers’ meetings and day nurseries for the children with working mothers.” Across the board, the Black women’s movement was meant to be more community based rather than simply gender based, Black families were to work together to deal with social ills, it was not all on the women.
Though it is clear that Terrell understood the dynamics of race and racism in America, she was still focused on classism as an important issue. To elaborate, with the emancipation of enslaved Africans came a class consciousness that would prove to be both uplifting and problematic in the coming decades. The divide being developed between the black upper and lower class, as a product of freedom, would become a barrier to those still scratching and surviving in America’s underbelly. Harley elaborates, “Despite the progressive views expressed throughout her active public life, Terrell epitomized black upper-middle-class leadership and seldom appeared among the black masses except in church gatherings.”As well, there was a particular alliance (or reliance) on Victorianism as a philosophy to be embraced as African Americans attempted to blend in to the larger American society. This approach was very problematic for many African Americans who had no interesting in embracing European social ethics but were instead looking for philosophies that were more culturally relevant.
It is no exaggeration that Terrell’s legacy helped to lay the foundation for social activism in the 20th century. For one, she helped to set the stage for African American Feminist/Womanist discussion in an international setting. As well, with Ida B. Wells she was one of the first women to organize and call for the meetings that would become the foundation for the National Association for the Advancement of Color People (NAACP). In addition, during the early part of the 20th century, African Americans were organizing themselves not only into community and self-help organization but in fraternal organizations as well. As such, she helped to develop Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated, a college based African American women only organization centered on mutual support and community service. Throughout her life, Terrell was deeply involvement in all aspects of African American political and social life, helping to lay the groundwork for how the rights of African Americans and women would be discussed in the 20th century.
 Sharon Harley. “Mary Church Terrell: Genteel Militant.” Leon Litwack and August Meier, eds. Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 307.
 Her attendance of Oberlin College was historic in that she was the first African American woman to attend the institution.
 It also should be noted that she graduated with Anna Julia Cooper and Ida Gibbs Hunt, who themselves are giants in their fields.
 Sharon Harley. “Mary Church Terrell: Genteel Militant.” Leon Litwack and August Meier, eds. Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 308.
 Ibid., 316.
 Mary Church Terrell. A Colored Woman In A White World. (Washington, D.C: Humanity Books, 1940), 185.
 Paula Giddings. When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America. (New York: William Morrow and Company, INC., 1984), 127.
 Smith, Jessie Carney. "Josephine Beall Bruce". Notable Black American women (v1 ed.). (Gale Research Inc., 1992), 123.
 Sharon Harley. “Mary Church Terrell: Genteel Militant.” Leon Litwack and August Meier, eds. Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 311.
 Ibid., 320.
 This point will become more apparent in the early part of the 20th century.
To be enslaved is to be property; to have no control over one’s well-being, life or destiny. A truly terrible fate for any human. However, when the enslaved are freed (or free themselves) they become something different both in circumstance and identity. Many emancipated Africans changed their names to forget or move on from their past, but some changed their name to redefine their very destiny. Isabella Baumfree as enslaved person had a particular relationship with the world, however, when she took her destiny into her own hands and liberated herself, she became Sojourner Truth. Truth changed her name as a way to shape and direct her destiny. Furthermore, as Truth, she not only worked tirelessly for the emancipation of African people but for women as well.
Baumfree was born at the end of the 18th century in upstate New York (Swartekill, in Ulster County New York), she was one of twelve children born to James and Elizabeth Baumfree. For the most part, her family was kept together despite being enslaved until their captor Colonel Charles Hardenbergh passed away. When Hardenbergh died, his property (i.e., the Baumfree family) were all separated and sold off. Isabella (or Belle) was sold and resold a number of times throughout her adolescent years into her 20s. Over this time she also had a number of children. Most of her children were born of love, however, she did had one child that was the result of rape. When Belle eventually found freedom, she, as a liberated person, chose to change her identity, by extension this courageous act also changed her destiny. As a free and autonomous woman she chose to be Methodist in order to use the word of God against the peculiar institution of America - slavery. She claimed to have been touched by God, to have received a charge from the creator that required her to stand up against enslavement and oppression. To fulfill that charge she needed a fitting name that would define her destiny, for her the name “Sojourner Truth” fit her destiny quite neatly.
Religiously, Truth, like her peers, was a child of the 2nd Great Awakening. This period in American religious life and history was a very deliberate break from the Enlightenment period in that there was a focus on the supernatural and the movement of God in the world rather than submitting to rigid logic. In addition, this period in American religious history is critically important in that it is an era that saw the philosophical attempt to solidify America as a Christian nation. As well, it is a period in which the presence and power of women in American religion (and in society in general) gained important traction. In fact, this period represents the feminization of American religion. That is to say, that during this period women took more leadership positions in civil and religious organizations, they led worship and spoke publicly to large audiences, something unheard of in generations past. Truth’s presence was critically important in this movement and moment. She was invited to give talks all over the eastern seaboard and other parts of the American North, precisely because of her unique position as a formerly enslaved African American woman. To elucidate, perhaps one of the most intersectional and therefore impactful speeches Truth made was her famous speech: “Ain’t I A Woman?”. This speech was critically important specifically because it addressed the problem of intersectionality well before “intersectionality” was a thing to be seriously considered. Intersectionality of course, refers to the multiple social concerns that can and do impact particular groups of people. Truth as one who was helping to shape the future of social discourse, astutely reminded her readers and audiences that she, like many other women of African descent, had to deal with not only racism, but problems of sexism as well.
Further, this problem of sexism that Truth dealt with was not just centered on white men, it was meant to address the issues she dealt with in her experiences with Black men as well. Men across the color-line have and continue to show hostility to the presence of women. However, what is most telling about the problem of sexism (as well of racism) is that it gets its strength from religion. That is to say, religion was used to justify any and all forms of social restrictions. Men (and women) see God and Jesus, both male figures, as the examples of righteousness, while the presence and impact of woman is often marginalized and discounted, if not outright vilified. However, Truth bravely addressed this issue openly and often, challenging both men and women to rethink their social position. To illustrate, one particular day when Truth was being heckled by a man, she astutely stated: “Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.” Truth’s social and political “clap-back” was strong, she spoke truth to power unapologetically and had a keen understanding of the contradictory dynamics of American life.
Truth was Black and a Woman equally. Meaning, she did not see a difference in the enslavement of African Americans and the subjugation of women, both were equally offensive and problematic. Accordingly, whenever she spoke publicly about the problem of enslavement, she would address issues relevant to women-folk. Connecting these issues was a brilliant tactic because she could easily draw parallels of the conditions of African Americans and women. Further, Truth did not simply direct her attention to just white men, instead, she constantly reminded Black man that just being a male was not enough to assume power over women. When addressing this issue, she stated: “You have been having our rights so long, that you think, like a slave-holder, that you own us. I know that it is hard for one who has held the reins for so long to give up; it cuts like a knife. It will feel all the better when it closes up again.” She wanted to crush the notion that women were less-than for both white and black men, she refused subservience in all its forms.
Not only that, but she believed that the freedom of women was critical to the freedom of the entirety of humanity, and she used religion, well specifically Christianity, to push that notion. In one instance she states: “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.” Truth is of course referring to Eve. Knowing that Eve has a precarious position in Biblical history because of her run in with the serpent, she leans into that stigma reminding audiences of the power of women. Conversely, she also is quick to remind folks that the One the worship so fervently, Jesus, came through a feminine vessel. Truth argues: “Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.” For the sexism that seems to be rampant in Christianity these not-so-subtle reminders are important for both men and women regardless of race or culture. Specifically, both men and women need to be reminded of a necessary balance that must exist between the sexes in order to secure any sort of substantive future for humanity.
The culmination of Truth’s work however is a keen understanding of balance. Balance in terms of the struggle that continues between Blacks and Whites as well as that between men and women. However, her most important gift to humanity is her appeal to the balance of human needs and belief. Truth believed that humanness – that essential stuff that make humanity unique – needed to coexist with religious belief, she states: “Religion without humanity is very poor human stuff.” I believe this sentence is a direct indictment of all forms of oppression whether they be racist or sexist. Having a belief system is all well-and-good, but to have any belief system without maintaining the needs of humanity - food, clothing, shelter and love - is a dead religion. Truth believed humanity was better than that because she believed better of herself. She always knew she was more than a slave and she always believed women were more that what they were told, she believed this because she understood her power both as a woman and as an African American.
 Margaret Washington. Sojourner Truth's America. University of Illinois Press, 2011,32-50.
 Barbara Welter, "The Feminization of American Religion: 1800–1860," in Clio's Consciousness Raised, edited by Mary S. Hartman and Lois Banner. (New York: Octagon Books, 1976), 141.
 Nell Irvin Painter. Sojourner Truth: A life, a symbol. (WW Norton & Company, 1996).
 https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/200277.Sojourner_Truth. Accessed August 2019.
 20 Sojourner Truth Quotes: Honoring the Fight for Equality. https://everydaypower.com/sojourner-truth-quotes/. Accessed August 2019.
For those who have fought for freedom in the Americas there seems to be common spiritual charge – to liberate God’s chosen people. That is to say, in the effort of African people seeking liberation the Gods are often called to aid oppressed Africans. Whether they be Gods from the continent of Africa or the Gods of the colonizers, one does not push for freedom until they received a divine blessing. However, there is a caveat to this issue, those asking for this blessing must put in the necessary effort, one cannot simply request and recline assuming the desire will be fulfilled without effort. It is all about the effort - the action taken to bring a prayer to reality. In American history there is one individual who put in maximum effort towards her own freedom, the liberation her people and the abolition of a nefarious system of oppression, that individual is Harriet Tubman.
For many African Americans, Tubman herself is a religious icon. She is the one who delivered scores of souls to the promised land. In many respects she has been deified as Moses - the one who led the children of Israel out of bondage and out of Pharoah’s land. Such a messianic presence forces a mythos. Myths, such as her freeing over three hundred enslaved Africans from bondage. Evidence suggest she only freed about 70 individuals, but the point I think is clear: She was made into this messianic figure because of the deep yearning for freedom within the hearts of the enslaved and oppressed. Enslaved Africans were never docile nor completely accepting of their plight. Continuously and constantly, we are presented with evidence to this fact, in the names of individuals, like Nat Turner, Richard Allen and the Queens of FireBurn, who have been raised to Godly status because they fought for freedom. Tubman is their Queen Mother, the most shining example of rebellion in the African American experience and herself an icon of freedom.
Essentially, Tubman, within African American historical imagery, is a deity. It is a well-earned reputation. Though she did not free 300 individuals, the numbers she did free including herself is not to be taken lightly. Moreover, she fought in the Union Army both on the front lines and as a spy and lived to tell her tales well into old age. She is deserving of all that makes her larger than life, her memory and her name will remain sacred for centuries. Such an effort to deify forces concerns about what humans value morally, or maybe just what African American value: courage, strength and freedom. Despite her divine efforts, Tubman was a religious person herself, and as a person of deep religious convictions, she clung to her beliefs on what she knew was a very dangerous road. For her, her trust and belief in God (or “de Lord” as she often refers) functions a guide for her personal moral ethos. “De Lord” for her is a protector, and one for whom freedom is also important. Moreover, “de Lord” calls for her to be active in the liberation of others whom are in bondage. Furthermore, Tubman’s deity is not a passive observer of the torment of the enslaved, but this deity does demand action. Tubman freed herself, she did not wait for de Lord to open any doors that she was not already kicking down. This is a critically important quality of her belief, like King decades later, she was not a passive Christian and did not believe in passive God. Her belief was reciprocal in nature, as it shaped her, she shaped it through her actions, efforts and words. Her struggle for freedom is essentially her gospel to the world.
She found others just like her as well. That is to say, one of the things that made the Underground Railroad the success it was, were the white allies. This is not to take anything away from African people seeking and gaining their own autonomy, however white allies must be acknowledged. Particularly in Tubman’s experience, the Quakers were one religious community that could be counted on in the fight for freedom. She is quoted as saying: “Quakers almost as good as colored. They call themselves friends and you can trust them every time.” Though she was only echoing the already well known anti-slavery position of the Quakers, her remarks make it clear that she believed in the righteousness of the efforts of colored people fighting for freedom and the righteousness of their white allies.
Coupled with the deification of Tubman, freedom in general carries with it powerful religious overtones. For instance, the enslavers during this period were described as Pharoah, a clear connection to the story of the captivity of the Biblical Israelites. As well, freedom or “the North” was seen as the promised land, again connect the plight of enslaved Africans to the stories of the Israelites in Egypt. An example:
I’ll meet you in the morning
when you reach the promised land
on the other side of the Jordan
for I’m bound for the promised land.
Of course, the institution of slavery itself also carried religious weight, for the enslavers. Not only were Bible verses used to reinforce the philosophy of the enslavers, but the ships used to carry human cargo sometimes had Biblical names. As well, enslavers were also supported and sponsored by churches, both Catholic and Protestant. So, on both sides of the figurative isle the name of God was being invoked for extremely contradictory reasons.
As a Christian, Tubman stayed focus on God’s work – freeing her people from bondage. Also, as a Christian she believed that the enslavers could be converted. To her, the enslavers were clearly living outside of the mandate and promise of God that she understood, so she would pray for her captors to have a change of heart, she recounts: “As I lay so sick on my bed, from Christmas till March, I was always praying for poor ole master. 'Pears like I didn't do nothing but pray for ole master. 'Oh, Lord, convert ole master;' 'Oh, dear Lord, change dat man's heart, and make him a Christian.' For Tubman, enslavers were not living right with God and needed a revival of the heart. Moreover, in Tubman’s view, a righteous Christian did not enslave their brothers and sisters, regardless of color. This seemingly odd contradictory dynamic was and is quite common for African Americans and European Americans, that is, enslaved (oppressed) Africans often seemed more Christian that the enslavers, wanting only be free as God intended while enslavers used the Bible to reinforce oppression.
Tubman was not a deity, despite her deification, she was simply a woman who fought for what she knew was right. But, perhaps therein lies the issue – when freedom is or becomes something sacred, champions of freedom will be raised to the level of Gods and Goddesses. Tubman charged into battle believing herself divinely driven and inspired, but that did not mean she did not have to do the hard work. Tubman knew the road towards freedom would be arduous, yet she walked it fearlessly. Her walk, she believed, followed a divine track that demanded freedom. For her, it was God himself, whom wanted the enslaved set free, Tubman was just the best tool for the job. Therefore, as a tool of the divine, she was the Sword of Michael, cutting paths towards freedom that no man was able to stop.
 Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People -http://www.harriet-tubman.org/moses-underground-railroad/. Accessed July 2019. She was even given the nickname “Moses” by William Lloyd Garrison.
 Washington Post - https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/five-myths-about-harriet-tubman/2016/04/22/b9f3a270-07f0-11e6-b283-e79d81c63c1b_story.html?utm_term=.c7ccca284525. Accessed July 2019.
 Carole Boston Weatherford, and Kadir Nelson. Moses: When Harriet Tubman led her people to freedom. Hyperion Books for Children, 2006.
 Harriet Tubman - https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/harriet_tubman. Accessed July 2019. “I said to de Lord, 'I'm goin' to hold steady on to you, an' I know you'll see me through.'”
 The word “community” could be italicized to emphasize the fact that the Quakers were known as allies, where as other Christian communities were hit-and-miss based on individual moral persuasion.
 Harriet Tubman - https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/harriet_tubman. Accessed July 2019.
 The River Jordan in Early African American Spirituals by Daniel L. Smith-Christopher - https://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/places/related-articles/river-jordan-in-early-african-american-spirituals. Accessed July 2019.
 Karl Reinhardt (1949). "Die Karacke Jesus von Lübeck". Zeitschrift für Lübeckische Geschichte und Altertumskunde (in German). (1959), 79–110.
 The Bible was Used to Justify Slavery. Then Africans Made it Their Path Towards Freedom - https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/the-bible-was-used-to-justify-slavery-then-africans-made-it-their-path-to-freedom/2019/04/29/34699e8e-6512-11e9-82ba-fcfeff232e8f_story.html?utm_term=.630c48473f97. Accessed July 2019.
Profiles in Africana Religion - Part 24: Fire Burn! Queen Agnes and Queen Mathilda and the Burning of St. Croix
As it has been discussed, history seems to work in patterns. When a people are pushing for freedom on one continent, there is likely people in a similar situation fighting for their freedom in another location. This pattern is brightly reflected in the history of African people in the New World. To explain, while Africans in the US were fighting for their freedom, similar movements were developing in other parts of the world. As well, during a period in which women of African descent were freeing minds and bodies in the US, similarly in the Caribbean, women were figuratively and literally, burning down the old visages of colonialism and slavery and leading their people freedom. The following series of essays will highlight the dynamics work of women freedom fighters in and through the Western Hemisphere, beginning with the Queens of the Fire Burn Rebellion.
Before dealing with the women themselves, it is critical to know a bit about the history of enslavement on the island of St. Croix. In July of 1848, the enslaved of St. Croix won their freedom by staging a nationwide uprising. The planters of the island were convinced that the enslaved would burn everything and anyone who kept them from being free, they therefore relented and worked to develop guidelines for emancipation. That is to say, a form of quasi freedom was granted to the enslaved of St. Croix who were on the verge of violently rioting all across the island nation. Essentially, the Dutch granted a form of emancipation to the African inhabitants of St. Croix, just to keep them from killing and burning everything. However, the freedom that was granted was cursory. The visages of oppression remained alive and well. This cursory freedom could and would only last for a generation, until 1878. In 1878, the African inhabitants of the island were disgruntled over the lack of advancements made on the island of St. Croix. The freedom promised was in name only, living and working conditions had not improved at all between 1848 and 1878. Of concern as well, was the lean harvest years of the 1870s, the African population was struggling to feed themselves and meet the quotas demanded from them by the land owners.
The rebellion started around quarter-day in St. Croix, a day that reminded many of the empty promises of the island’s governors. As well, the day offered Africans of the island the time and space to coordinate their rebellion. The weapon of choice for this rebellion was fire. The three women who led the Fire Burn rebellion – Queen Mary, Queen Agnes and Queen Mathilda – were essentially elected to their royal positions by their army of disgruntled workers. Queen Mary Thomas was identified as the leaders of the rebellions, Queens Agnes and Mathilda were chosen to be in Queen Mary’s court because they were present for the ritual that preceded the uprising. Mary Thomas, as she was born, first emerged on this plane on the island of Antigua in 1848. She did not arrive in St. Croix until the early 1860s, sometime during her teenage years. Queen Thomas was always rebellious, before she became the Fire Queen of the island, she had been arrested for a number of petty misdemeanors (a fact that could have been contrived by the Dutch government to discredit her and her efforts).
Queen Agnes and Queen Matilda are the lesser known compatriots of Queen Mary, but again they served as the royal court for this important rebellion. While Queen Mary was being named as the mother of this rebellion, as with the Generals of the Haitian Rebellion, the Queens and the weapons of the rebel army were blessed. To elaborate, according to legend, Queen Agnes and Mathilda stood as the Fire Burn field generals while Mary and the weapons were blessed for battle. During the rebellion, the rebels made quick work of many of plantations, burning houses and crops to the ground. The indignant inferno of St. Croix’s rebels burned homes, fields, business and crops; destroying all that European enslavers valued. The rebel forces where so powerfully overwhelming that, “On October 4, 1878 the British, French, and American warships arrived and offered to help stop the riot. By the time the riots were over, great destruction to the islands had occurred. Over 879 acres were burned, and the damage caused was estimated at hundreds of thousands of dollars.” When the eventual dust settled the three queens were captured, exiled to Denmark where they served a life prison sentence. .
Though the rebellion was suppressed and its queens imprisoned, the legacy of three Queens continues on the Island of St. Croix. In particular, Queen Mary is still valorized in song on the island:
"Queen Mary, ah where you gon' go burn?
Queen Mary, ah where you gon' go burn?
Don' ask me nothin' t'all
Just geh me de match an oil
Bassin Jailhouse, ah deh de money dey"
The fact that her and Queens Mathilda and Agnes are still valorized on the Island in memorial, song and statue speaks to historical tone the inhabitants of the Island want to maintain. They are a people who have fought and continue to fight for their freedom and sense human autonomy. Again, this sentiment is not to be taken lightly. Instead, it must be studied and the energy harnessed as our present freedoms are tested and our labors trivialized. As well, it must serve as a reminder of the critical role that African woman have and continue to play in the fight for global African freedom.
 Oddly enough, many of the freedom movements in the Caribbean were called “labor” disputes. It is odd verbiage, but it is implies choice, a choice that did not exist in the period of Caribbean colonialism. Could Nat Turner’s rebellion be called a labor dispute? Or better yet, was the Civil War simply the natural result of a labor dispute that got out of hand? The verbiage seems extremely problematic in that it fails to boldly call out the problem – this and many other conflicts were uprising of the oppressed – nothing less.
 This statement is referencing the work of women such as Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and the like who worked tirelessly in the latter half of the 19th century fighting for the freedom of African people.
 George F. Tyson, and Karen Fog Olwig. "‘Our Side’: Caribbean Immigrant Labourers and the Transition to Free Labour on St. Croix, 1849–79." Small Islands, Large Questions: Society, Cultural and Resistance in the Post-Emancipation Caribbean (1995): 135-61. This essay highlights the Labor Act of 1849 which would be a major catalyst for the Firburn riot in 1878 because of the erosion of rights year by year after the signing of this Act.
 Ibid. Lomarsh Roopnarine. "Maroon resistance and settlement on Danish St. Croix." Journal of Global South Studies 27, no. 2 (2010): 89.
 Neville Hall. Slave Society in the Danish West Indies: St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix. (Aarhus Universitetsforlag, 1992).
 The Three Rebel Queens - https://www.virgin-islands-history.org/en/history/fates/the-three-rebel-queens/. Accessed July 2019.
 Karen Fog Olwig. Small Islands, Large Questions: Society, Culture and Resistance in the Post-Emancipation Caribbean. (Routledge, 2014).
 The Three Rebel Queens - https://www.virgin-islands-history.org/en/history/fates/the-three-rebel-queens/. Accessed July 2019.
 The St. Croix Labor Riot Organized by 3 Women Leaders “Queen of the Fireburn.” - https://blackthen.com/the-st-croix-labor-riot-organized-by-3-women-leaders-queens-of-the-fireburn/. Accessed July 2019.
 Jeannette Allis Bastian. Owning Memory: How a Caribbean Community Lost Its Archives and Found Its History. (Libraries Unlimited, 2003), 12.
 Powerful Sisterhood Led to Freedom in the US Virgin Islands - https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/powerful-sisterhood-led-freedom-usvi-n530221. Accessed July 2019. On this website, there is an image of a statue that was constructed in honor of the three Fire Burn Queens. European tourist to the island, perhaps do not recognized the significance of the memorial, but the residents of the island do, as they work to maintain a sense of autonomy and peoplehood.
Profiles in Africana Religion - Part 23: Yaa Asantewaa, Ghana's Golden Warrior Goddess and the Sacred Golden Stool
Across the pond, there were (and are) dynamic movements for freedom and independence on the continent of Africa. One in particular, was led by a woman from the Asante people of Ghana named Yaa Asantewaa. To be clear, colonization and slavery worked hand in hand. Ambitious Europeans traversed to and through the continent of Africa subduing land and people for their own benefit. As a result, Africans on both sides of the globe were tortured in life and worked to death. Not only, were Africans lives and freedom stolen from them, but as well their most valued resources, art and culture. However, one stood up to the thieves when they came to the border of Asante-land demanding what which was not theirs: the Golden Stool. The proud history and spirit of the Asante people are tied to this sacred stool. According to legend – before the reign of Osei Tutu I, the Asante people were a dividing and warring group. To bring a sense of unity to the people, Okomfo Anokye - a High Priest - was charged with appealing to God and the ancestors to find a path toward peace. Anokye’s pleas were answered in the form of the Golden Stool, which according to legend descended from the heavens and landed at the feet of Osei Tutu I. From that day forward the Golden Stool became the unifying symbols of the power and pride of the Asante people.
Destined to be Queen Mother of the Asante’s, Yaa Asantewaa was born on a Thursday sometime in 1840 and was the eldest of two siblings. Though she was not born in Kumasi (the capital of Asante-land), she was born of the Asante people in a small village in Southern Ghana named Beseese. Her childhood was happy and uneventful, when she came of age she married into a polygamous marriage and gave birth to a daughter. Asantewaa did have a younger brother who was named Chief of Edewoso, a small but vibrant Asante community. During her brother’s time as Chief, the Asante Kingdom was going through a period of dynamic flux. Apart from the problems created by the presence of colonial Europeans, there were internal issues within in the Kingdom itself. For instance, for five years (1883-1888) the Asante Kingdom was engulfed in a civil war. This war took its toll on the kingdom, weakening it to the point that it was vulnerable to outside influence and attack. In addition to being marred in Civil conflict, the Asante’s had squared-off against the British Army five times in the 19th century, which had also worn down the Asante Empire.
Though Asantewaa’s brother made it through the Kingdom’s conflicts and maintained his position as Chief, he passed away a few years after the civil war. His passing left a vacuum within the power structure of the community, however, it also created the opportunity for Asantewaa to make history. To explain, though Asantewaa’s brother held power in their small community, he was merely a local Chief who answered to the King of the Asante’s, Prempeh I. Prempeh's reign was conflict filled, between the Asante Civil War and the colonization of the British Empire, the Asante’s were mired in political instability. When the British came to the King demanding the obedience of the Asante’s as well as unfettered access to their resources (including the Golden Stool), he and many other chiefs and Asante officials refused and were subsequently arrested and exiled to the Seychelles Islands on other side of the African continent in the Indian ocean. The British believed when they removed the power base of the Asante’s, they would have unchallenged access to the spoils of the kingdom. They were mistaken.
About two centuries after the legend of the Golden Stool, during the British colonial period, Sir Frederick Hodgson, regional governor of the Gold Coast (Ghana) demanded the Stool so that he may sit upon it, symbolically conquering the spirit of the Asantes. The stool was never meant to be sat on, not even by the Asantehene (King of the Asantes). Again, the Golden Stool is not a throne, it was a symbol of the spirit of the Asante people, their culture and their historical lineage. Further, as Queen Mother, Yaa Asantewaa was given the tremendous responsibility of being Gatekeeper of the Golden Stool. The Queen Mother is the second highest position in Asante-land. It is her responsibility to not only guard the integrity of the Golden Stool, but as well she is acts as the mother of the reigning King, guarding the integrity of the Kingdom itself. As Queen Mother, she is an advisor to the King and if the seat is to become vacant, she is responsible for finding and vetting candidates and would-be successors to the crown. When word got back to her that the British had violated the sanctity of the stool and what it stood for, war was declared by Yaa Asantewaa.
This final war for the Asante and the British was the most bloodletting, resulting in massive casualties on both sides of the conflict. Nevertheless, after the dust had settled from the conflict, the British empire still did not have possession of the Golden Stool, but Yaa Asantewa had been captured and exiled to the Seychelles Islands, where she would live out her final years. During the war, the Golden Stool was hidden from the British and they never found it. Instead, it was discovered years later (sometime in the 1930s) by some Ghanaian road workers who were accused to stripping the stool of its Gold plating. The three accused men were tried for their crime in local Ghanaian court, but with the British government still being a colonial force in Ghana, they intervened in the trial on the workers’ behalf; after a short trial they were found guilty and were sentenced to be executed, but the British government intervened in the trial, sparing the lives of the accused. The colonial government also returned the Golden Stool back to the Asante people where it remains the symbol of the spirit of the people it was always supposed to represent. Today, for security reasons, the general public can only view a facsimile of the Stool, as the real stool remains heavily guarded and out-of-reach of any would-be colonizers or thieves.
 Lerone Bennett. Before the Mayflower: a History of the Negro in America, 1619-1962. Colchis Books, 2018. In the first two chapters of this text, the author speaks at length about the Three Great West African Empires, of which Ghana is the first. The Ghanaian Empire (not to be confused with the Republic of Ghana) was the first of the three Great West Africans Empires. The original Ghanaian Empire stood for about five centuries, from the 8th century of the Common Era to the 13th century.
 Kwame A. Appiah and Henry Louis Gates Jr., ed. Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience. (276).
 It must be noted that this unifying symbol and legend shares some symbolic connection the comic book character Black Panther from the fabled Wakanda. Furthermore, Though it is a stool, no one is to sit on it, even the King of the Asante’s was not to sit of the stool, but is only to allowed his bottom to touch three times as a symbol of his authority.
 The reason the day of her birth is clear, but not the date is due to her day name. Most Ghanaians are given a day name at birth, a name that is reflective of the day she was born. Yaa is for a female born on Thursday, Yaw is the male counterpart.
 Yaa Asantewaa. “Black Past.” https://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/yaa-asantewaa-mid-1800s-1921/. Accessed June 2019.
 A. Adu Boahen. Yaa Asantewaa and the Asante-British War of 1900-1. (James Currey Publishers, 2003). Ivor Agyeman-Duah, Yaa Asantewaa: The Heroism of an African Queen, Accra, Ghana: Centre for Intellectual Renewal, 1999. Nana Arhin Brempong (Kwame Arhin), "The Role of Nana Yaa Asantewaa in the 1900 Asante War of Resistance", Ghana Studies 3, 2000, pp. 97–110.
 The Asante Wars 1823-1900. https://v1.blackpast.org/gah/anglo-ashanti-wars-1823-1900. Retrieved June 2019. The First Anglo-Ashanti War began when the Ashanti claimed territory disputed with the Fante, a client state of Great Britain. The (first) war officially ended in 1831, after the Ashanti accepted the Pra River as the boundary between the British-controlled Fante coastal region and the Ashanti Empire… The second Anglo-Ashanti War occurred between 1863 and 1864. In 1863, a large Ashanti force crossed the Pra River in search of a fugitive, Kwesi Gyana. British, African, and Indian troops responded but neither side claimed victory as illness took more casualties on both sides than the actual fighting. The second war ended in a stalemate in 1864… The Third Anglo-Ashanti War occurred from 1873 to 1874. British General Garnet Wolseley led 2,500 British troops and several thousand Indian and African troops against the Ashanti Empire. The war ended in July 1874 when the Ashanti signed the Treaty of Fomena… The fourth Anglo-Ashanti War occurred between 1894 and 1896… The final war, a rebellion called the War of the Golden Stool, took place from March through September 1900.“
 "The Downfall of Prepmeh" by Robert Baden-Powell, 1896, the American edition is available for download at http://www.thedump.scoutscan.com/dumpinventorybp.php. Accessed June 2019.
 “The Anglo-Ashanti War,” New World Encyclopedia, http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Anglo-Asante_Wars; “The Anglo-Ashanti War,” Warfare History Blog. Accessed June 2019. http://warfarehistorian.blogspot.com/2012/10/anglo-asante-wars-1824-1906-hundred.html; “The Anglo-Ashanti War,” British Battles, https://britishbattles.homestead.com/files/africa/The_Ashanti_Wars.htm; Robert B. Edgerton, The Fall of the Asante Empire: The Hundred-Year War Of Africa Gold Coast (New York City, New York: Free Press, 2010); Albert Adu Boahen, Yaa Asantewaa of the Ashanti-British War of 1900-1901 (London: James Currey, 2003).
 The Golden Stool: https://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/golden-stool-17th-c/. Accessed June 2019.
There are many thinkers throughout history that have worked to use Christianity as a transformative vehicle for substantive change. However, there is, understandably, some concern regarding the ability of Christianity and Christians to usher in revolutionary change. Over the centuries, Christianity has been at the center of many problematic developments: African enslavement, Native American genocide, global colonization, et cetera. Nevertheless, there are some who have worked tirelessly to preserve the integrity of the Christian belief system regardless of its dubious relationship with peoples of color, women, the LBGT community as well as the poor. Alexander Crummell’s mission in life was to exact revolutionary change for African people throughout the world, but he felt the best way to make that change was through Christian conversion and strict adherence to Biblical philosophy despite its many short comings. This essay will work through this contradiction in an effort find the value in the Christianity that Crummell observed.
In March of 1819 Alexander Crummell was born free in New York City to free parents: Boston Crummell and Charity Hicks. Like his contemporaries Delaney and Garnet, Crummell could pinpoint part of his African lineage. His paternal grandfather was Tenme of Sierra Leone, taken from the continent as he was maturing into a young man. There was of course family lore that Crummell’s paternal grandfather may have been a local chief, however with no way to verify that information. To be clear, African people in America did not throw away their past as some have surmised, nor was it stripped from them in such a way that they were completely ignorant and oblivious to who they were. Black people kept their history even if their enslavers did not. Lineage for the Crummells, like many dislocated Africans was extremely important. Again, memory, both cultural and familial, are critical for a people once assumed devoid of history and ignorant.
The Crummells were situated in the middle of a very active African community in New York City. Alexander Crummell’s parents lived next door to Henry Highland Garnet’s parents after they absconded from enslavement. As children Garnet and Crummell attended the same primary educational institution, the African Free School (AFS) No. 2. The African Free School was founded in 1787 by John Jay and Alexander Hamilton as the first non-religious school for African people in the US. Though it was white controlled, it became a beacon for hope and advancement for America’s free African population at the time. John Rury author of the article “The New York African Free School, 1827-1836: Community Conflict Over Community Control of Black Education”, remarks: “Unlike white charity schools, which were reserved for the poor exclusively, the African Free School became a focal point of black community aspirations for a better future.” Moreover, while religious and/or charity organizations had strict guidelines for community involvement and their educational curriculum, the AFS worked to provide free Africans a voice in the education of their children.
In the North generally and in New York specially, the African population was growing and moving in extremely dynamic ways. Not only was there an influx Africans running to the North for their freedom, once safely in the North, many became very active in their communities, helping others find their way to freedom, involving themselves in self-betterment/educational programs and institutions as well as establishing culturally relevant ideas and traditions. Crummell attended school and worked with Garnet often as young men. On their road to cultural consciousness and self-discovery they moved in and out of various educational institutions in New England. Crummell eventually landed at the Oneida Institute, a body centered on the education of the Native American population of the US. While attended this school Crummell became an Episcopal priest, setting the stage for his life, career and legacy.
Crummell worked diligently to establish himself and his ministry in New England. His ordination came in the year 1844 at the hands of the Episcopal Church in Delaware. Working with the church and in the community Crummell’s reputation as an orator gained traction. He toured throughout New York state giving lectures and speeches on the evils of slavery. Eventually, he was asked to be the keynote speak for the Anti-slavery Convention held in Albany, New York in 1840. Success throughout his travels was hit or miss, he struggled financially, as well, him and his ideas were not always well received by Northern crowds. Again, Crummell’s focus, while very much centered on emancipation, worked from a very pious point of departure in which obedience to the church was the foundation. His ideas were not always received well; because of his marginal success touring in the US he decided to take his ministry to England where he found new opportunities.
Crummell also had reservations about the ACS (the American Colonization Society, not to be confused with the African Civilization Society), however, once he moved from the US and became acquainted with the African colonization thinkers in the UK, he began to reconsider his stance. He believed that colonization in the hands of Christianized African Americans would be the best approach, as a way to civilize unconverted Africans and to push the Gospel. This is a major issue that must be acknowledged for Crummell, in that his philosophy reads much like that of a colonist. His primary concern was the maintenance of Christianity as a tool of spiritual guidance (read: control), seemingly omitting or neglecting to address critical issues of culture germane to African and African American life. Essentially, Crummell was a missionary, working to convert African people to Christianity, turning many people off to his message and mission. Alred Moss author of “Alexander Crummell: Black Nationalist and Apostle of Western Civilization” argues, “His thoughtful and persuasive arguments for Christianity, Western culture, and, paradoxically for black nationalism as the indispensable tools for black empowerment had a significant impact on the tiny cadre of black leaders who sought to protect, motivate, and lead the masses.”
Despite Crummell’s conservatism his legacy is quite solid among Pan-African thinkers of the last two centuries. Like many conservative African thinkers, his ideology was very impactful for Marcus Garvey. Garvey again represents and epicenter of African thought that ties together two centuries of impactful cultural development. However, perhaps the most important contribution of Crummell was in the establishment of the American Negro Academy. This academy was very impactful during first quarter of the 20th century. In particular, this academy was critical for the development of W.E.B. DuBois establishing the idea of the Talented Tenth. Again, conservatism notwithstanding, institutional development such as this among African Americans is a critically important stepping stone in the establishment of African Americans as a community.
 Leon Litwack and August Meier, eds. Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century. “Alexander Crummell: Black Nationalist and Apostle of Western Civilization”, By Alfred Moss. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 238. More on his lineage: “On his mother’s side he was a member of a New York family that had been free for several generations. His father, who described himself as the kidnapped son of a West African prince…” Wilson Jeremiah Moses. Alexander Crummell. (Oxford University Press: American National Biography Online, 2008).
 John L. Rury, "The New York African Free School, 1827-1836: Community Conflict over Community Control of Black Education," Phylon, Vol. 44, No. 3 (1983) pp. 187–197. Ibid. “African Free School (2010). Hunt, Thomas C.; Carper, James C.; II, Thomas J. Lasley; Raisch, C. Daniel (eds.). Encyclopedia of Educational Reform and Dissent. SAGE Publications. pp. 31–33. The African Free School was founded by Alexander Hamilton and John Jay in 1787 to provide free Africans in the state access to education. According to Rury: The New York African Free School was founded in 1789 to serve the city's growing free black population. Established by the New York Manumission Society to divert black children from "the slippery paths of vice," it was among the first nondenominational charity schools in Ameri can cities
 John L. Rury, "The New York African Free School, 1827-1836: Community Conflict over Community Control of Black Education," Phylon, Vol. 44, No. 3 (1983), 187.
 Stephen Thompson. “Alexander Crummell.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
 Leon Litwack and August Meier, eds. Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century. “Alexander Crummell: Black Nationalist and Apostle of Western Civilization”, By Alfred Moss. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 240.
 Stephen Thompson. “Alexander Crummell.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
 Leon Litwack and August Meier, eds. Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century. “Alexander Crummell: Black Nationalist and Apostle of Western Civilization”, By Alfred Moss. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 240.
 Ibid., 241.
 Ibid., 243. ”During the American Civil War, Crummell devoted himself to persuading skilled and educated Afro-Americans to resettle in Africa.”
 Ibid., 237.
 Ibid., 246. Website: Black Past – American Negro Academy https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/american-negro-academy-1897-1924/. Accessed May 2019.
 Website: Black Past – American Negro Academy https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/american-negro-academy-1897-1924/. Accessed May 2019.
American enslavement brought about many complications with regard to family development for African people. As discussed, Martin Delaney’s parents had a direct connection to the continent of Africa. This connection deeply influenced Delaney’s politics and the course of his life, blossoming into dreams and hopes of an African American exodus. For Henry Highland Garnet’s family, things were a bit different. The Garnet’s had been tethered to the horrors of American enslavement for three generations. Henry Highland’s grandfather was ripped from Africa’s bosom and brought to the Americas during the latter half of the 18th century. Sterling Stuckey states: “His grandfather had gone through the whole process of captivity in Africa, the middle passage and enslavement in America, where he also saw his offspring, Henry’s father, enslaved.” This experience shaped Henry’s father but it did not define him; he escaped enslavement with his family to New York when Henry was still a boy, a move that would inspire young Henry throughout his life. This essay will discuss the life of Henry Highland Garnet and his trek back to the continent of Africa.
Though the Garnets were a couple generations removed from Africa, as a family they embraced their African-ness with purpose and intention. To elaborate, when the Garnet’s were safely in the non-slave holding state of New York, George Garnet, Henry’s father, developed an ad hoc naming ceremony for himself and family. By this, they proactively chose to discard the names given to them and adopted new names, more fitting for their new identity as free people. The ceremony of this process was dynamic and ceremonial: George Garnet sat each member of his family down and renamed them with the intention to alter the way him and his family thought of themselves. To change one’s own name can alter the way a person thinks of themselves; changing a child’s name upon liberation is akin to changing their destiny. Therefore, it was critically important for George to do this for his family upon free soil to sow the seeds of liberation in their minds, hearts, and futures.
The process of naming for African Americans has always been a critical point of contention. On the continent naming ceremonies are culturally ubiquitous. That is, great care is taken to name children well, with intention and hints of foresight. European disruption to that process only amplified the importance of naming. Meaning, though Africans were renamed upon being branded as chattel once in the hands of their European American captors, many Africans kept their own names for the hush harbors, only answering to their slave names when vomited from European lips. As well, when physical freedom was secured another naming process took place, as in the example of the Garnet family. For the Garnets: “Not long after their arrival in New York, George Garnet led the family in a ceremony that was carried out on countless occasions in antebellum American and following emancipation in 1865 – a ‘baptism to liberty.’” Garnet wanted to make it clear to them and to all who they would encounter as free people that they were free person, worthy of respect and dignity.
Though Garnet was more removed from the continent of Africa than Delaney, he was no less cognizant of his cultural identity as an African. From an early age, he recognized and celebrated the diversity of the African communities he lived in New York and New England. Moreover, during this period of history it was not unusual to find African Americans celebrating their African-ness in worship, during ceremonies, and festivals. Garnet was fascinated by these gatherings and deeply influenced by the diversity of African people and the cultural pride expressed despite being prisoners in a hostile land. Stuckey elaborates: “A principal source of his nationalism, it appears, was rooted in that awareness, in the knowledge that he and his family were of African descent.” Having such influences as an African child in antebellum America is no small thing; as well such attention to cultural identity in Black community demonstrates a continuum of cultural knowledge and expression that is critically important in identity development.
Henry Highland carried the memory of his renaming and his father’s attention to cultural history throughout his life as a source of strength that guided and supported him. When he came of age, Henry Highland became deeply involved in preaching the word of God. His ministry began in New York where he taught and engaged in theological study. As a student and budding minister he involved himself in the anti-slavery movement. Garnet grew and eventually was named pastor of the Liberty Street Presbyterian Church in Troy, New York for a time. While in this position he did well to gain allies and support for his corner of the abolition fight, becoming an important voice in New York City community politics and development. As well, he often spoke throughout New York state and other parts of the North but his ideas were not centered merely on advocacy and political maneuvering, instead he pushed for armed rebellion. Many of his contemporaries felt he was too radical in his approach, but he felt the only way to truly end the cruel institution of chattel slavery was through violence.
Despite his sentiments, the possibility of America’s enslaved population rising up in unison, killing their Masters, and overthrowing the government was not a feasible strategy. He therefore began to consider other alternatives, namely emigration. Emigration for Garnet was an open field. He was not narrowly focus on Africa, but also considered the Caribbean and Mexico as viable alternatives for liberated African people. As Garnet nurtured his idea for African American colonization he became deeply involved with the ACS, the African Civilization Society (not to be confused with the American Colonization Society). Both the African Civilization Society and the American Colonization Society were centered on finding permanent relocation areas for African Americans, the difference was the former was founded by African Americans. In his later life, Garnet traveled extensively throughout the Caribbean and Africa searching for a new home for his people. He was not only looking for possible locations that would support an African American exodus, he was also studying the manner in which communities developed. Finding sanctuary for his people was a centering element of his life, it was the true North of his moral and cultural compass.
However, African American emigration was an enormous endeavor, the effort to practically execute this process would be daunting to say the least. Therefore, it is doubtful that it is or has ever been a practically solution to European oppression. But, the energy behind the sentiment and the need to carve out a space for African Americans to be without the weight of white supremacy, is very real. It is what defined Garnet’s life (as well as the lives of his contemporaries). Nevertheless, the practicality of emigration may have not been the point, entirely. The point is: as an oppressed people African Americans have and will continue to look for a “promised land”. Emigration therefore can be put into spiritual terms as: a sentiment of our hopes and dreams as well as a search for or a least a symbol of what is best in ourselves.
 Leon Litwack and August Meier, eds. Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 129.
 W. M. Brewer, "Henry Highland Garnet," The Journal of Negro History 13, no. 1 (January 1928): 36. According to Brewer: “In his personality were reflected the fired and genius of African chieftains who had defied the slave catches and later had rankled in Southern bondage. No disappointment could crush such a spirit as that which Garnet manifest in behalf of his people.”
 Leon Litwack and August Meier, eds. Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 130. He simply gathered his family sat them down and gave each of them new names for this new identity. In the 20th century the process of naming for African American would continue to be an important cultural element. Again, naming is a spiritual process in which African American announced their dreams of freedom and dignity to the world in a variety of ways. African American Muslims, for instance, would make name changing central to their philosophy. The Moors with “Bey” or “El”, the NOI and the “X” and the Nation of Gods and Earth or 5%ers and their god-body monikers like God Shamgod and Charlamane the God demonstrates the push to rename and repurpose oppressed human beings through naming. These are also baptisms of liberty in which people of African descent use the process of naming the shape and mold the destiny of their offspring.
 Ibid., 131.
 Ibid., 131.
 He was also deeply involved in the temperance movement, a religious movement centered on the prohibition of alcohol. This highlights the stern nature of his belief system as a Christian.
 Leon Litwack and August Meier, eds. Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 140-141.
 Ibid. 143.
Religious belief in the African American experience is sometimes taken for granted, as an assumed given. Because Africans in America have nothing but their faith in God, many have clung to it like a life preserver in the middle of an ocean – you are alive, yes, but any significant help might never come. Nonetheless, there are some who have warned to look for freedom in a practical sense; to not rely too much on the unseen when basic needs are not being met. Martin D. Delany is one such individual. Delany was a practical man, believing God, but also knowing that men and women had to fight for theirs on Earth instead of expecting to be saved by some unseen power. The following is a brief survey Delany’s life and struggle during antebellum and postbellum America, of particular concern is Delany humanistic approach towards religion and survival.
Though Delany was born in the South – Charles Town, Virginia – during the antebellum period (1812), he was not born in to servitude. Being born in the South as a person of African descent and not being born as chattel is quite an anomaly. To clarify, Delany was born to an enslaved father and a free mother, such a dynamic under Virginia law meant that he and his siblings were free as per the condition of the mother. Delany’s family moved to Northern Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, at a fairly young age. He was a bright young man, started training as a physician’s assistant in his teenage years. Interestingly, his medical training was somewhat of a trial by fire as he was immersed in the medical sciences during a cholera epidemic. Because of his skills and work ethic, Delany was accepted into Harvard Medical School, however because of outrage by racist students, he and several other African American students were not allowed to attend the college. Instead, he remained in Pittsburgh and trained in the medical arts with his mentor Dr. Andrew McDowell.
Delany’s family had a direct connection to the African continent, a fact that was never lost on him as he developed into a man. Delany’s mother was freewomen, however her parents were taken directly from the Continent. They were Mandinka from the Niger Valley and they were careful to pass knowledge of their family history down orally, never forgetting who they were or where they were from and ensuring that Delany would never forget either. Delany’s father as well was born to parents who had a direct connection to the Continent. They were Gola, from Liberia, a land that was later designated to be a refuge for emigrating Africans from the United States. Also, a land that Delany was destined to know intimately. Delany was very proud of his lineage and that pride directly impacted and shaped his understanding of nationalism and heritage.
Delany was a pragmatist, but he was still a religious man. In Pittsburgh, he became heavily involved in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and an active pillar of the Black community. However, as a man of science he did not just rely on faith, he believed in action and involved himself intimately in community affairs. For example, during the cholera epidemic of the 1832 he worked closely with the disease and its victims providing critical aid to Pittsburgh’s black community. Further, being a pillar of the community and earning a notable reputation, he became involved with the politics of Pittsburgh. He also began attending political conventions and eventually founded a Black-controlled newspaper called The Mystery. As a publisher he earned the attention of abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass gaining the support of abolitionist organizations throughout the North.
As history unfolded, Delany worked very closely with Douglass for the abolitionist cause (after Douglass and Garrison fell out over an ongoing dispute over the level of violence necessary for the movement). Together they founded the North Star newspaper, an anti-slavery periodical, out of Albany, New York, Douglass’s base of operations. As a duo they worked well together. Douglass handled the publishing and editing of the periodical, while Delany focused on lecturing and touring. The North Star was an important publishing effort by the African American abolitionists, however it was difficult for the duo to retain the support necessary to ensure it was as affective as possible. Eventually the periodical ran out of money and had to be abandoned. However, before the North Star project was scrapped complete, Delany was able to address significant issues related to the plight for America’s enslaved. In particular, the issue of emigration. For Delany the notion of emigration was extremely important; he never felt anchored to the US like some of his contemporaries, a likely result of his lineage.
Eventually Delany moved his family to Canada as a means of keeping them safe from would-be slave patrols and America’s unflinching racism. However, he was not just concerned about the well-being of his kin, he thought it prudent to get all enslaved Africans free from bondage by way of emigration. Nell Irvin Painter states: “Taking a sober look at race relations in the United States, Delany concluded that Afro-Americans should emigrate to Central or South American or to the Caribbean Islands, where they could become useful citizens and create a United States of South America.” Moreover, the strategy to emigrate may have been based in part on a Zionistic understanding of Black people’s status in America held by Delany. That is to say, Delany felt that Black people in America were a special, chosen people and as such were to move to hallowed lands through divine mandate.
Delany’s position on emigration was strong despite an over-arching sentiment that such an action was akin to colonization. Meaning, many African Americans opposed the idea of colonization or any method of removing African Americans from the US or forcibly uprooting an indigenous population from their rightful lands. Nevertheless, Delany organized emigration conventions in Cleveland, Ohio (1854) and Chatham, Ontario (1856) in order to begin laying the groundwork for that very act. At first Delany eyed South America and the Caribbean basin as likely destinations of America’s would-be emigrants, however by the third emigration convention (1858) Delany was looking for permanence on the African continent. Emigration to the continent was the central focus on the American Colonization Society, an organization Delany took issue with because it was controlled by whites. Despite this, Delany set his sites for Liberia as a possible home for African Americans much like the ACS; as such in 1859, Delany traveled to Liberia to begin the search for a new nation for the enslaved of the US.
The ability to turn a religion or belief system that was to suppress and oppress into one that provides a sense of self and agency is quite remarkable. Still, the ability to look within one’s self to find something that was taken from you – a sense of being and culture – and use that to survive and thrive, speaks to the endurance of the human spirit. Delany was a deeply religious man, but he always peppered his philosophy with a deep sense of humanism. African Americans had to make their own way in the world. Despite being the victims of white supremacy, it was still their obligation to reclaim what was taken and create a destiny worthy of fulfilling. Painter again states: “Even though he was a member of the African Methodist Episcopal church Delany castigate Afro-Americans for trusting in religion too fully. He believed that human affairs were regulated by three immutable invariable “laws of God”: the Spiritual, the Moral and the Physical. Black people erred by turning spiritual means toward moral or physical end, Delany said, but they should instead borrow a leaf from whites, who used wealth not prayer to improve life on earth.” Delany’s efforts to encourage African Americans to emigrate was not in the least politically pragmatic, however, his approach towards advancement through activism, advocacy and education as well as his posture towards community development and self-advocacy without the need of a deity’s guiding hand are critically important within African American historiography. Perhaps Delany’s philosophy presents the flutterings of early African American humanism as well as an opportunity for deep reflection on important of personal responsibility in human affairs.
 Frank A. Rollins. Life and Public Service of Martin R. Delany. (AMO Press, 1969), 14-17. Delany mother fought to ensure that her children were born free and remain that way.
 Robert Steven Levine. Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass and the Politics of Representative Identity. (UNC Press Books, 2003), 487.
 Frank A. Rollins. Life and Public Service of Martin R. Delany. (AMO Press, 1969), 14-17.
 Levine, Robert S., ed. Martin R. Delany: A Documentary Reader. (University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 27-29.
 Ibid., 69-70
 Leon Litwack and August Meier, eds. Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 152.
 Ibid., 155.
 Ibid., 155.
 Ibid., 156-157.
 Ibid., 152.